When: Late 1973/1974
Where: Most likely conducted at the Blue Thumb Records offices. They were then an imprint of mother label, ABC Records, and those buildings were located on Sunset Boulevard.
What: The Doors had just released Full Circle in 1972 and the bandmembers were now seeking out new identities. Jim Morrison had been gone over a year now, having been found in a Parisian bathtub on July 3, 1971. Guitarist Robby Krieger, drummer John Densmore and keyboardist Ray Manzarek traveled to London in 1973 to look for a new singer, someone they thought might be able to erase the memory of Jim Morrison (Ray had provided vocals on Full Circle and its predecessor, Other Voices). Obviously, this was never going to happen; there was no one with a tongue who could remove the legacy of Morrison. But they did manage to unearth several candidates including Howard Werth (from a band called Audience), Kevin Coyne (from Siren) and Jess Roden (the vocalist with Bronco).
Werth rehearsed with the pair for about a week and there was serious talk about him becoming Jim’s replacement in this new version of The Doors. Even Jack Holzman
, head of Elektra, the band’s label, was in support. And since Audience, Howard’s band, was already signed to Elektra in America, the musical maneuverings would be minimal. In fact, before Werth even jammed with the ex-Doors troika, Audience
(under the watchful eye of Holzman) was being groomed as the replacement for legendary band - door lock, stock, and barrel. But Audience fell apart and the record label head saw the merging of Howard and the three downed Doors as a natural move.
Ray Manzarek felt something was missing and returned to America (where he’d record The Golden Scarab, his first solo attempt). The remaining duo hung out in the UK and began seeking out another project. They ultimately came across singer Jess Roden, bassist Phil Chen (playing with Roy Davies in a band called Gonzales at the time, he’d go on to play on the groundbreaking Jeff Beck instrumental album, Blow By Blow as well as work with Rod Stewart, Pete Townshend, and many others). And keyboardist Roy Davies (later passing away in 1986).
The Butts Band was formed.
In terms of framing what Krieger and Densmore did post-Doors, this is a decent interview. But as a dialog about their former band, there is a lot lacking. I was afraid to focus the questioning too heavily on The Doors because the main reason for this conversation was so that they could talk about this new band. I did manage to squeak out a few questions though.
This is probably one of the 40 or 50 first interviews I ever did - you can tell. Some of the questions are a bit obvious (“The keyboard player is English?”) and some are memorably stupid (“How many tracks are on the album?”). If you’re going to slice this one up, just keep that I was still trying to get my whole interviewing technique thing together. OK?
What caused you to split from Ray?
|"We're a new band. We don't want to continue with the old. It was good while it existed."|
John: We went to England together and then we split up.
Robby: The three of us went to London and we figured we’d try to get a singer, maybe some new blood. We finally realized that if we were still The Doors, no singer would have a chance because he would be compared to Jim Morrison. So Ray had his own ideas about what he wanted to do. Of course, John and I were leaning more toward a hard rock and roll thing. So we just said, “Well, let’s just form 2 separate bands and forget about The Doors and set off on a new foot.” So that’s what we did.
Was that hard to do after you established your names with The Doors?
John: It was time to do it; it was a little hard.
Robby: It was hard not to do it. But, it’s a new band. It’s starting all over.
Did you two ever think about splitting up?
John: No, but we weren’t going to be The Doors, just us two.
No, but did you ever think of going your own separate ways?
Robby: Yeah. We talked about that, I suppose. But here we are, we’re both over in London and we decided…
John: We had gone over there to get some musicians and form a band, right and left. So we decided, “Hell, we’re over here. There’s nothing back in the States. We’ve lived in L.A. a long time and so we’ve met a lot of people. Here are some new people.”
How did you meet up with the other members of the band?
Robby: Just through friends and searching around.
John: And through the record company.
Who is in the band?
Robby: The singer’s name is Jess Roden and the other two guys are the bass and keyboard player who were in a band called Gonzales. The bass guy is Phil Chen; he’s originally from Jamaica. The keyboardist is Roy Davies.
Robby: He pronounces it “Davis.”
John: Yeah, he does.
Did you know what musical direction you wanted to go in?
Robby: Yeah, we had like a whole album almost ready to record. But Ray’s stuff was so different from it. He had his own thing and it was his philosophy trip. Whereas the songs that John and I were writing were more universal, I guess. Like some of Ray’s songs, it would be hard for anybody else to sing them except Ray because they’re so personal. So that’s the direction he went.
John: Yeah, I think that’s the main thing. Any singer couldn’t really sing Ray’s songs. I’m not saying they’re any lesser or greater. It’s just a real personal trip.
Robby: We had decided to go in a hard rock direction. We thought about doing some softer trips. I don’t know if you remember “The Piano Bird,” which was off of one of our records, the last Doors record (Full Circle). We thought about going in that direction more. Everybody at Elektra thought it was great. But we thought, “Well, we want to do something really hard rock.”
John: The single isn’t really representative of the whole album. It’s a Jamaican influenced.
Robby: We ended up cutting half of the album in Jamaica, which was really great. It was fantastic. A whole new vibe and you really get influenced by the sounds.
Are the studios as sophisticated as the ones you find in the States?
Robby: A couple of them are pretty…nothing like a place where you have a million tracks. But it’s sufficient to do a rock and roll album; you have 16 (tracks). Anything you need they’ll fly in from Miami.
When did you start work on the album?
Robby: April, March…No, May.
How long did it take?
Robby: Well, we just finished it. Most of it was cut in a couple weeks.
What’s the name of the album?
Robby: It’s called The Butts Band.
Robby: Our singer, he, Jess, he used to have a band that he wanted to call The Butts Band because the band was a real terrible band. The only reason they were terrible was because they didn’t have a leader in the group and nobody could really decide what to play. So he wrote a song about. The only place they could get to rehearse was a men’s room back in this park. The area was called “The Butts.”
How many tracks are on the album?
Robby: There are only 8, really.
John: They are all long.
Are there instrumental sections?
Are you both playing in them?
Robby: Probably, yeah.
Did you get your fill of that in The Doors?
Robby: Sometimes, sometimes not. Most of our songs were pretty structured in The Doors, except for occasional long cuts like “Five To One” or something like that. But yeah, we’re getting more breaks now.
Do you have plans to go on tour?
John: Yeah, we’re trying to get one together for March. We’ll probably be the second act to some big act, but it will be nice.
You can go with Ray’s band.
John: I think he’ll have to go second act. Not to us, just second. We’re the underdogs now, which is kind of nice. It’s a challenge, rather than go out there and everybody yelling already. You have to win them over. It’s going to be tough, but it’s something we need.
Do you have a specific setup for the live show?
John: Well, it will be mostly music. No chickens or anything. No smoke.
Was the album written by the whole band?
John: Yeah. The singer wrote a lot on it. So you haven’t heard it?
Just the single, so that’s all I can talk about. The album isn’t pressed yet, right?
Were there any songs on the album that you might have done with Ray?
Robby: One of the songs we were.
John: Yeah, but there were a lot of changes because Ray’s influence is gone. Robby got to do what he wanted. “Baja Bus” was just the blues, really.
John: And then the influence of an English musician, it can take a lot of different forms.
Did that make a big difference?
Robby: I would say English musicians are all fantastic. These guys are.
The keyboard player is English?
Robby: Yeah, Roy Davies. He plays a real percussive style. The band that he’s in, Gonzales, they play all instrumentals, mostly Latin and soul.
Did those guys mind coming over here?
Robby: Actually what happened was we did half the album in London at Olympic. We did the other half in Jamaica.
Will they come over here to tour?
Robby: Yeah. They were here, actually. We thought we were going to have a tour last month, but somehow it got screwed up. They were here and played a club or two out in the Valley.
John: And we worked on the album, mixing and stuff.
Is there any kind of a theme to the album?
John: Theme…Maybe you can find one listening to it! I think there’s a sound to it, sort of. It’s harmony, double vocals, that sound.
Is Jess really well known back in England?
John: Well, he’s sung in R&B bands for 10 years all over the place.
Robby: He’s not real known in England. You can’t go up to someone on the street…
John: No, he’s not. He’s underground. He’s known by all the musicians.
There was a thing about Jess in Melody Maker recently.
John: Well, Melody Maker said he was going to be in Deep Purple and he called us up.
Was it hard finding a singer?
John: Yeah, we would get people to come down and say, “Let’s jam.” We would sort of be semi-auditioning. We tried to make it real relaxed. It was tough. It was kind of weird, but it worked out. We did that about 4 months. We lived there. It’s much different than like on the road where you’re in a new town every night. You have road managers driving around on the wrong side of the road and doing our laundry. It was a really good experience.
Did you try any other singers that people might know?
John: Well, yeah, but that wouldn’t be nice to say! A couple of the singers we tried, great singers but their voices were too high for what we had in mind. We wanted a more bluesy, ballsy sound, and they’d be balladeers or something.
How was Jamaica?
Robby: Kingston is like a ghetto.
John: That’s where the studio is.
Robby: But it’s fantastic just being there because driving down the street, there are a million record shops and they’re just blasting out reggae. It’s incredible.
John: And it’s beautiful, Kingston the city is. There are worse ghettos than I’ve ever seen.
Robby: They’re not real happy about whites down there. Although they sort of ignore you because in Kingston it’s 99 percent black anyway. They’re having gang wars and everything killing each other.
John: It’s heavy. You read in the paper some of the mountain people stole a machine gun from the police department, so they’re all tight because they know there’s going to be some trouble. It was really heavy being called whitey a few times. It turns it all around.
Do they have arenas?
Robby: They have big warehouses; no concert hall really.
John: The movie The Harder They Come is a good example. It’s good stuff. That’s another thing. Let alone have white skin, you can’t understand at all. But I met a bass player who is Chinese-Jamaican and he can go right into it.
I like the way they talk, though.
John: Yeah, it’s great.
Was it just you four in the studio?
Robby: Five. We had some percussionists come in.
John: Some Jamaican percussionists.
Did you have any extra strings?
John: No, thank God. Although some were pushing for it.
How long did it take to record after you got the whole band together?
|"We had decided to go in a hard rock direction."|
Robby: Like I said, we just finished it. Cutting time was very short. Three weeks maybe.
John: What was hassling were the mixes. We remixed the whole album twice.
You remixed it?
Robby: Yeah, with Bruce Botnick and Rick Mc Connell; we did the second mix with Bruce. He helped out a lot.
Is there some Jamaican influence on the album?
John: “Pop-A-Top;” the bass player is really good.
When is the album going to be out?
Robby: Well, hopefully January 5th.
John: I didn’t know that.
Are you going to wait a couple months to go out on tour after it comes out?
Robby: Yeah, give it a chance to get out there.
John: Well, maybe we’ll go at the end of February.
Do you think people will be able to recognize that it’s Robby Krieger and John Densmore?
Robby: Oh, I think so.
John: You do?
Robby: Well, on some of it.
John: It’s really hard to tell.
Do you do any acoustic on the album?
Robby: Rhythm things.
Are you two doing any singing?
Robby: Very little.
So Jess is the only lead voice?
Robby: Yeah; he’s real good at holding it down.
John: It was really a pleasure working with a good singer. One that can do with his voice what you can do with an instrument.
The single, “Pop-A-Top” and “Baja Bus” is out now.
Robby: Yeah, we’re waiting to hear it.
How did you come up with that single?
Robby: Well, I don’t know. Everybody just seemed to think it sounded like a single. What do you think of it as a single?
It’s great. Did you get sucked up into the whole politics thing when Jim passed away?
Voice in the back: Did you run into Jim when you were up in San Francisco?
John: No, I knew that was a rumor. He went into the bank with a bodyguard. Did you hear it? Three weeks ago they said he was alive and opening an account in San Francisco. They said the guy went into the bank with a bodyguard and everyone was going, “Well, hark! There’s Jim Morrison. Jim, the last year before he died, had a beard and no one recognized him. It was sort of like, “Oh, there he is. Tah-dah!” Anybody who can pull that off…
What kind of places do you want to play when you go out on the road?
Robby: We’d rather play smaller places.
John: I don’t know what we’re going to get, though. It’s really tough.
Robby: There is no decent club in New York that we can play. We can play at The Roxy.
John: Nice clubs or small halls, but I don’t know if we have our pick of that anymore.
Do you have plans to tour over in Europe?
Robby: They want us to. Probably after the March tour we’ll go over there.
Do you have any material ready for another album yet?
Robby: Well, not worked up yet, but we write songs.
So the band works well together onstage?
Robby: So far, but we haven’t really played yet. Except the one club.
John: They had a top 40 band as well, so they want to hear all that. Most the people there want to drink their beer and dance. Then we played our stuff, which they had never heard at all, of course.
Did they recognize you?
Robby: They knew because the club owner was like, “Oh, The Doors! I thought you’d get people in there!”
John: People are going, “Hey, let’s hear… some Doors songs.” You want to say, “Oh, shove it.” Not too much of that, though.
Do you think that is going to follow you around for a while?
Robby: Not too much.
John: Not compared to when we tried to continue on without Jim.
Robby: We were trying to do our new stuff and all they wanted to hear was old Doors stuff.
John: “Light My Fire.” Now we don’t have to. It’s a lot easier that way.
Would you play anything from The Doors?
John: No, I doubt it. We’re a new band. We don’t want to continue with the old. It was good while it existed.
Are there parallels to how you started with The Doors in comparison to starting with the new band?
Robby: It’s a little bit easier because John and I didn’t have as much trouble getting a record deal.
John: The other aspect, the live aspect, is just about as difficult as being new. They’ll tell the promoters, “Well, it’s 2 Doors.” And they’ll go, “So what? What do they do?” I mean, we’ll get a tour and everything. It’s just when we were big, it was easy and we could do anything we wanted. You pick who you play with, who complements. Now it’s not going to be so easy.
Do you get butterflies before you go onstage still?
Robby: I never had that when The Doors started, but I did have that when we did our first show without Jim. That was a great show.
John: That was in Lincoln, Nebraska. It was our first tour without Jim and it’s a heavy thing to try to do. We played the Midwest first, then New York. It was really good. This was the Other Voices album. We played Carnegie Hall and the people were great. I don’t know, I think we’ll be a little nervous. I mean not now, but when the curtain is about to rise and the first couple nights. That kind of nervousness is good. If you panic, you’ll forget the song.
What was the main reason behind the nervousness because with Jim there you didn’t have too worry?
John: No. We can carry on musically without Jim.
Robby: Did the audience really come just to see Jim freak out or did they want to hear some music?
John: There was a lot of stuff there. Believe it or not, people have the lack of taste to yell out, “Where’s Jim?” But so what? They’re drunk. It was really a rebirth to try something new and be finally over with The Doors.
Robby: It’s nice to be able to cut something off like that rather than like a Byrds’ trip, where there is one guy left in the group after 10 years.
John: And play the old, old ones. It’s not even recognizable from the original recording.
What do you think of the two Doors albums you made without Morrison
Robby: I think “Tightrope Ride” (Other Voices) got up to #20 or something. The first album that we did together did pretty good. The second one, we put our heart into it, it just didn’t happen.
Is it going to happen?
Robby: God, I hope so! I’m happy with this more than any album we’ve done for a long time.
John: It’s definitely way above the 2 albums without Jim.
Robby: I think the problem with our last album as The Doors was that Ray, John, and I were all going in opposite directions. It was kind of nice with Jim in the band because we kind of had that one direction now. He would write his songs, then we would write a few, and that would provide some type of balance. With the 3 of us, there was no balance at all. It was all gone completely. That was probably the real problem.
Did you listen to any particular artists while writing the album?
|"We're the underdogs now, which is kind of nice."|
Robby: Yeah, Bob Dylan (laughs)!
Is there any Jim Morrison influence in there?
Other voice: I heard a lot of Allman Brothers in there.
John: Probably, not directly.
John: The last 2 years we’ve been listening to what’s going on right now like The Allman Brothers. A lot of black music.
Robby: Jess is really influenced by soul like Marvin Gaye. His vocals leaned that way. Phil, the bass player, he really loves the Motown bass players and Jamaican influence. Roy, the organ player, he’s really into Latin and rhythmic music. You might find all these things we’re talking about in the next album.
Did you think about having a black singer?
Robby: Yeah. We thought about it.
John: It’s the singing that counts.
Robby: I think it would take it in a different direction.
John: Jess is a pretty black whitey. If some black singer came along in England and he was right, that would be it.
Robby: We were going to try that one black guy.
Have you tried different concepts?
John: I think it will be growing a lot, too.
You have a lot of ideas?
John: Well, as we work together more, everybody is going to influence everybody else.
Robby: With The Doors, everybody expected to sound a certain way. We kept trying to get an old Vox organ for Ray because we loved this one Vox organ for “Light My Fire.”
It was a real Vox organ?
Robby: Yeah. It was a great one. It was an old one. The new ones, you couldn’t play them because they’d break. So we used to go out with 2 or 3 of them and they would be broken by the third night.
It sounds like this band offers you the freedom to do what you want to do.
Robby: Yeah. It’s a good thing. We can go in any direction we want. I’ve always wanted to get into more of a black sound. I’ve always dug all the bass players in Motown.
2008 © Steven Rosen